January just keeps getting better for the St. Xavier High School basketball program.
A week after knocking off archrival Trinity, the Tigers got another superb performance from Connor McKim and defeated Bullitt East 54-49 on Friday in a quarterfinal of the Republic Bank Louisville Invitational Tournament.
The Tigers (12-5) advanced to face Ballard in Saturday’s 11:30 a.m. semifinal. It’s believed to be St. Xavier’s first trip to the LIT semifinals since finishing as the runner-up to Male in 1967.
“It’s wild because of how poorly we were playing going into the Christmas tournaments,” said McKim, whose Tigers are 8-1 since a loss to Pulaski Southwestern on Dec. 21. “It’s something we knew we could do, but I don’t think we realized how good we are and how good we can be. Tonight’s just another measuring stick.”
After posting a career-high 37 points in Tuesday’s 63-45 victory over North Bullitt, McKim poured in 26 against Bullitt East. He was 7 of 15 from the field, including 3 of 5 from 3-point range, and 9 of 10 from the free-throw line.
Evan Walker added 10 points and seven rebounds for the Tigers.
Tyler Sharpe scored 15 points to lead Bullitt East (14-3), No. 6 in the state in The Courier-Journal’s Litkenhous Ratings. Brandon Klefot added nine points and seven rebounds, but the Chargers couldn’t overcome 32.7 percent shooting and 16 turnovers.
St. X outscored Bullitt East 22-2 in points off turnovers.
Jared Farris’ basket gave the Chargers a 42-34 lead with 1:47 left in the third quarter before the Tigers made their run. McKim’s 3-pointer with 4:07 left gave St. X the lead for good, 46-45.
“That was just a huge momentum booster when Connor had that 3 go in,” Tigers coach Kevin Klein said. “You just saw a look of confidence on Conner, and it resonated with the rest of our team. And that amped up our defense.”
McKim hit 1 of 2 free throws for a 49-47 lead with 1:25 left, and Sharpe was called for an offensive foul on Bullitt East’s next possession. The Tigers hit 5 of 6 free throws in the final minute to seal the victory.
BULLITT EAST 12 16 14 7 – 49
ST. XAVIER 8 14 14 18 – 54
Bullitt East (14-3) – Sharpe 15, Rakes 3, Green 3, Polson 6, Klefot 9, Wilson 6, Farris 7.
St. Xavier (12-5) – McKim 26, Orberst 2, Basham 6, Olsen 5, Brian 3, Walker 10, Kiesler 2.
3-point goals – Sharpe 2, Rakes, Green, Klefot, Wilson; McKim 3, Olsen.